State’s Jefferson College project earns $1 million grant

Published 12:47 pm Wednesday, January 10, 2024

NATCHEZ — The Mississippi Department of Archives and History has received a $1 million grant for its Natchez Center for American History project at Historic Jefferson College.

The award from the National Endowment for the Humanities is an Infrastructure and Capacity Building Challenge Grant for the $20 million Natchez Center for American History project, according to a press release about the grant.

“We are grateful to the NEH for this major grant,” said Katie Blount, director of the MDAH. “It is the only award in Mississippi and the largest of the 260 projects across the nation.”

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The center will have two components: a preservation field school and an interpretive center that will share stories of the rise and fall of Mississippi’s cotton kingdom era.

The field preservation school is intended to create a strong workforce by providing high school and college students with the skills needed to preserve historic structures.

The Historic Jefferson College campus is an 80-acre site with eight main buildings and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural significance. It was Mississippi’s first institution of higher learning.

According to the press release, its first building was completed in 1820, just as the cotton economy was expanding and generating vast wealth built predominantly through slave labor. It is also the birthplace of Mississippi statehood, where the state’s first constitution was written.

College operated for many years as a preparatory school and later as Jefferson Military College. And it served briefly as a Freedmen’s Bureau after the Civil War, according to the press release.

Restoration of structures and the development of Historic Jefferson College are key components of MDAH’s strategic plan for southwest Mississippi, where it operates two other historic sites—the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians in Natchez and Windsor Ruins near Port Gibson.

NCAH will serve as a gateway to understanding the region’s history and its significance in the greater American story.

Restoration work will begin in Spring 2024 thanks to a National Park Service Save America’s Treasures grant and congressionally-directed funding awarded to MDAH in 2023, which together provide more than $600,000 in support for the project. A generous grant of $250,000 from Entergy Mississippi to the Foundation for Mississippi History will also support restoration work at HJC. In addition, MDAH has secured support for NCAH from the Mississippi Legislature.